Posts Tagged ‘Storytelling’

TALES OF BRITAIN: Winter 2019

Rhymes Of Britain

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Happy musical Folklore Thursday! Only four days to our first ever London show – and nine to our Bath book launch! We dearly hope to see you at one of them if you’re anywhere near the bottom half of this island…

We should just take a moment to tell anyone reading who’s either awaiting a cpy of Tales of Britain, you can order one here, as this book is needed all over the world, you won’t find anything like it anywhere else! If a child in Mexico loves, say, Robin Hood, and they want to know more about the folklore of this isle… they will now know where to come.

Anyway, as today’s theme is rhyme and music, let’s talk about something which you WON’T find in our lovely book: Nursery Rhymes, and Tradition Song. For a long time it was part of the plan to include the regional rhymes from Britain which have become world famous, sources of pride for many corners of Britain. Right here in Bath, when it comes to rock and folk, we have the twin hills of Kelston Roundhill (produced by George Martin, no less!) and Solsbury Hill, but in the more traditonal stakes, there’s all sorts of Robert Burns tunes in SW Scotland, Wales is the land of the bards of course, and then there’s the historical basis for Jack Horner in Mells, Somerset, and there’s London Bridge falling down, while Gloucester and Colchester fight over whether Humpty Dumpty was originally a war machine of some kind in their own city’s history.

But a favourite such rhyme of ours is JACK AND JILL – mainly because the most pleasing basis for that rhyme is a bike ride away from where this blog is being typed out right now. Perhaps, like so many touristy claims, such as Glastonbury’s Arthurian burial place, there’s no real solid evidence that the idea that the well-loved verse began here, but certainly the Kilmersdon claim to Jack & Jill does fit the pattern of Children’s Nursery Rhymes having truly horrific historical inspirations. 

According to some reports, Jack was a Kilmersdon local, an expectant father who went up a hill in the 17th century to draw water from the local well, and was crushed by a falling boulder – when news reached his wife Jill that he was dead, she went into labour, and died just after the birth of a son. To this day, the surname Gilson remains popular in the area, and is traced back to this event. Nice. And no mention of vinegar or brown paper. 

If Tales of Britain does well enough (and is printed in suitably large amounts!), we do hope one day to provide a hugely expanded deluxe illustrated edition in a few years, and including these rhymes would definitely be part of that re-release. BUT! That will not be for a good few years, and 77 exciting stories have just been published this month, so that’s no reason not to go out and ask about Tales of Britain in your local indie bookshop, to tell your friends, and to buy copies right now – the better we do with this first ever release, the more editions of all kinds there will be in decades to come, and packed with rhymes and songs they will be!

Let the campaign continue… See you LIVE next week! We promise not to sing.

Saint Necessarily So

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday! Have you made your plans to come to our BIG EXCITING BOOK LAUNCHES in LONDON and BATH yet? Brother Bernard and Sister Sal can’t wait to see you there!

Just a brief blog this week, as stories of those Christian oddballs some call SAINTS are one of the things we have largely avoided in the book. From our own experiences wading through books of British lore, amid all the ghost stories and big black spectral hounds and identikit narratives, there are just too many stories of ‘saints’, in every corner of the country, and they’re nearly all along the same lines – the usual stuff, some believer in the new religion is being chased by pagans, their head gets cut off, a sacred spring appears, blah blah blah. With some exceptions, it’s generally uninspiring stuff invented to cover up the desecration of existing communities in the name of the trendy Christ-based religion which took hold in Britain from the mid-first millennium to…, well, sometime before now. Tales of Britain is partly about peeling away all the Christian and Puritan distortion in our national treasury of folklore, so we’re promoting saintless stories as much as possible, making it clear that Britain has had its own culture and lore long before Rome even invaded Judea, let alone the invention of the Christianity business.

And yet, despite all this, our one and only saint-based story has always hidden in plain sight, as the one excerpt given to the world long before the book was in shops – CADOC & THE MOUSE. Thankfully this tale is specifically about Cadoc’s intelligence and dislike of bad teaching, and so is anything but a typical ‘saint’ story. We also enjoyed giving the tale a go on Cerys Matthews’ 6music show the other week!

Coed Fenni Fach, site of the mysterious grain store Cadoc’s mouse friend uncovered…

There is also our Xmas story surrounding St Augustine, THE LAST YULE, but A) That’s not in this edition of the book, and B) It’s not Xmas, so never mind, eh?

We dearly hope you’re enjoying the book, please do remember that online reviews really help further our campaign – and if you’re ever near a bookshop, do take a moment to ask if they have it – if the answer is now, any decent bookshop ownder will rapidly order some in if they only know the book exists. This is up to all of us… we can bring British folktales back to life again, together!

See you a week next Monday, or a fortnight Saturday…?

Standing On The Shoulders of Giantesses…

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

… If you’ll forgive the gendered term. Still, HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY and INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY EVERYONE! First of all, THANK YOU so much for sharing your excitements at the arrival of the book at last, perfect timing for such an auspicious day, please do keep them coming!

Today Brother Bernard is off at the Merlin Theatre in Frome entertaining the Year 9s and 10s of Frome School – he was supposed to do it last year too, but the Beast From The East prevented that, so he did this instead. By the way, this is a first for TALES OF BRITAIN, but if you’d like a Tales of Britain show at your school, college, organisation – get in touch and we’ll see what can be worked out!

As today’s theme aligns itself with International Women’s Day, we could point you towards last year’s blog, complete with our Disney Princess-trouncing TALES OF BRITAIN PRINCESSES…

But the theme does allow us to hopefully clear up some slight irksomeness, this topic of what’s available in the line of British Folktales. The thing is, when interviewed on radio, often you run out fo time to fully express yourself, and we’ve been left feeling definitely antsy about the claim that Tales of Britain is ‘the first British folktale collection in decades’. The backstory to this project is utterly sincere – it came about because we wanted to buy a collection of British folktales for nephews, thinking we’d have our choice of several, and our researches at the time (over a decade ago) turned up very very little, astonishingly so, and that’s what triggered this whole massive campaign!

This has changed a little over the ensuing years, and although a ‘mea culpa’ would be going too far, we’d hate to feel others’ entries in this very slim genre of publishing weren’t given their full credit. When it comes to British folkLORE studies, we’ve been hugely gratified to have the backing of Professor Carolyne Larrington, for a start, her book ‘The Land of the Green Man’ is a must-read for lovers of lore. And we already pointed you towards Dee Dee Chainey’s excellent British Lore book in our Folklore Thursday article.

But when it comes to actual stories, above all, of course, we’re talking about the true Grand Dame, Mother Goose of British Folktales, KATHARINE BRIGGS. 

Before she died in 1980, Briggs compiled the ultimate, exhaustive collection of traditionally told, raw British folktales, and although we never referred to this collection in creating our book, any of us working and playing in this area have a lot to thank her for. Her collections are now available in achingly beautifully illustrated form, courtesy of Peter Firmin, plus his daughter Hannah Firmin and Clare Melinsky. But the problem is, you will not find this Folio Society collection anywhere for less than £50. This was the only option we could find in print when we looked (although then it was £200), and that’s really what inspired us to spend so many years fighting this campaign (and that campaign will continue for years to come).

We thought we’d be choosing from at least half a dozen authoritative British folktale collections, but besides small out-of-print squibs, that tempting but terribly expensive option seemed to be it. 

Since building up this campaign on Unbound, however, other books have started to rustle out of the foliage, and make any grand claims to uniqueness harder to make. In truth, some might see it as an eccentric move to highlight these other books so soon after our own launch, but that’s just the kind of lovely storytellers we are. This is now taking us away from the International Woman’s Day theme, but the History Press worried us with the release of a book called ‘Ballad Tales’, but as the name suggests, that was specifically centred on ballads, not stories. Two great authors, the late Robert Nye and the revered Alan Garner, both published their own selected British folktale retellings, but having read both books, they are HIGHLY selective, in Garner’s case the choices utterly obscure, and neither writer had any intention of creating a full, representative anthology. Lots of authors do ‘THEIR’ retellings, as per Gaiman’s Norse and Fry’s Greek tales, and Garner’s voice is a powerful thing, but his collection is a definite personal choice of lore, unlike Tales of Britain in every meaningful way.

However, the most recent shock came from a book called ‘Between Worlds’ by seasoned folklorist Kevin Crossley-Holland, who has spent his life retelling folktales from all over. We haven’t yet read this collection, which stole a march on us by coming out last autumn, when our book was also originally meant to be published. When reminded to look forit in bookshops, in all honesty, that title, ‘Between Worlds’, keeps slipping our memories, and by calling this collection of 50 stories from Britain AND Ireland (we feel Ireland is too complex to slot into our collection, such a distinct land of lore deserves its own book) ‘Between Worlds’, it feels like Crossley-Holland has created another personal collection of favourites, just like Garner and Gaiman and co, without our intention of covering the land with tourist guides, rebooting public interest in folktales, having the maximum fun with it all and serving the widest audience inclusively, providing an all-new British folktale treasury for all.

We can’t wait to read ‘Between Worlds’ though, and we know an earlier collection of similar tales was written by the great man, so what we’re saying is, if word got back to Mr Crossley-Holland that this upstart Brother Bernard had been claiming Tales of Britain was the ONLY British folktale collection on the shelves, that would frankly break our hearts, and we want to spell out now that no disrespect to any other storytellers would ever be intended… but this is what happens when you spend 15 years working on a project, the landscape shifts as you work away. 

So what it really comes down to is, what defines our book? Four things – the intent to provide the most full collection of tales from this island imaginable (we have 77 without Ireland), the way that each story is tied to the landscape and offers tourist guides (with handy links), the way each tale has been fine-tuned for the 21st century, tastefully clearing away centuries of bigotry and distortion and making them suitable for all audiences today, and above all, HAVING A LAUGH. Folklore seems to be taken so very seriously at every turn, it’s seen more as an academic subject than a branch of entertainment, we want to turn all kinds of folk on to these stories, folk who would run a mile at the idea of the usual folkloric fare, we want them to be bedazzled, and have fun, both reading the book and attending our live shows (see you at The Owl & Hitchhiker on the 15th, and/or Widcombe Social Club on the 30th!).

The mysterious Brother Bernard is here because Tales of Britain isn’t simply one author’s British folktale book, but it’s been designed to please as many people as possible, like The Simpsons or a Pixar movie, giving our national treasury hopefully more of a chance to shine than ever before, and who retells them is immaterial. Just enjoy the tales, afresh, with confidence.

Speaking of which, it’s time to race to Frome for a World Book Day packed with folktales fresh off the printers! Have a very happy one, and International Women’s Day, and enjoy a tale or two!

Lesley Cookman says:

I’m loving the book – there are lots of laugh out loud moments which are greatly appreciated. As an erstwhile panto-scribe (and performer and director) it appeals greatly to me, and as a current novelist it’s going to be terrific for plot-plundering. Thank you!

A Traveller’s Tale

Monday, 4 March 2019

Happy Monday, Tales-lovers, from the Travellers’ Tavern next to Victoria Coach Station; consider this a telegram en route home, March is a ricochet of Bath-London and back from here on in…

If you missed our gorgeous chat with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6music yesterday morning, it’s on Listen Again here, and will be uploaded to talesofbritain.com when it drops off the iPlayer. 

It was a nerve-wracking early start on a Sunday, but thankfully all nerves were dissolved by the warmth of Cerys and her team – having had her support in funding the book, it was a real treat to finally connect in person and see that she really did enjoy what we’re up to. Not least as, if each of our 77 tales could be individually dedicated to anyone, our version of Rhiannon would be dedicated to Cerys, being wholly in debt to her must-watch documentary on The Mabinogion from a few years back. Over twenty years of loving Catatonia also puts us forever in her debt anyway.

Speaking of anyways, let’s have another anyway – anyway, those who did tune in would have heard that the conundrum of our LONDON LAUNCH FOR PLEDGERS has finally been cracked thanks to a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy connection, which led us to THE OWL & HITCHHIKER on the Holloway Road – quite a yomp from Dick Whittington’s Cat in Islington, but near enough for our first ever show in the capital to resonate. Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will be there with live stories from every corner of the British island…

It’s a fun family show, so the only drawback is that no little ones are allowed in after 7.30, but otherwise we’re really hoping to get a good crowd together for an hour of tales to kick the book off in style. Those who specifically pledged for our London Launch show, we really hope the 25th at 7.30 in London N7 works for you. Only five days later, 12pm on the 30th in Widcombe, we will be kicking off the Bath Comedy Festival, so there is a second option for you. And loads more options to come, hopefully, from Ludlow to Edinburgh fringes, festivals to be announced, and… well, get in touch if you want to be added to our LIVE PAGE!

Non-pledgers are of course also welcome, the more the merrier, but please buy a book and make a donation if you can… just to help us out with, guess what… Travel.

Stop.

PUBLICATION DAY! The Journey Continues…

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

A very happy and auspicious FOLKLORE THURSDAY to you all!

We would say who needs a theme this week, when, after 15 years of very hard work, of dreaming and hoping, this week TALES OF BRITAIN FINALLY ARRIVED ON OUR DOORSTEP!? But thank you to Folklore Thursday for such a perfect theme, of TRAVEL AND JOURNEYS, as suggested by our recent article for the Folklore Thursday website

We have indeed travelled a very long and bumpy journey, but do not think that the arrival of these books in shops and on shelves all over the world is the END of it! This campaign marches on, our TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE shows will run forever, we hope (though currently struggling to find performing spaces in Wales and Scotland – GET IN TOUCH if you can help!), and we can bring our storytelling fun to you wherever you are, in the UK or elsewhere, as long as travel/accommodation is taken care of, we will do all we can to journey to your venue, festival, fete, school, or wherever!

But all that said, after 15 years of dreaming, of course it’s a joy to hold these books in ourhands at last. These paperbacks are beautiful things, 365 pages of refreshed folktales from Land’s End to John O’Groats, with little tourist guides for the location of every story. True, it may not yet have lavish illustrations and full-colour maps, but that’s a dream for a future year – for now, it’s enough to have fulfilled our mission, to fill this criminal, ridiculous gap in the world’s bookshops and libraries with a book which doesn’t just regurgitate the same old stories, but which brings them back to life for a new century. These tales are for sharing, and the books are packed with so much to share.

78 copies to sign and send on to pledgers – best get stuck into it, Brother Bernard!

You won’t find TALES OF BRITAIN at the Tesco’s checkouts, we’re afraid, but besides buying online, you can go to your nearest bookshop now and ask about TALES OF BRITAIN! If it’s a big chain like Waterstones or WH Smiths, they will need to order them in – in which case, PLEASE DO ASK! The more shops know about this release, the more will stock copies, because there really isn’t anything else like this out there, and no self-respecting bookshop should be seen dead without an exhaustive collection of British folktales! Indie bookshops will hopefully have them in, and we have been BEGGING The Powers That Be Unbound to see the blatant logic for getting them in garden centres, tourist offices and travel shops – service stations and the like. This is where they will fly off the shelves, and deservedly so. Again, maybe ask for them in your nearest shop of that kind, and it may all snowball from there…!

We told the publisher it should be DEE DEE not just DEE! So sorry, Dee Dee!

There’s so many people to thank for their belief and help to make this book a reality, but we don’t want to end up sounding like Olivia Colman (we’d happily blow textual raspberries at the odd misanthrope, but let’s not get too Father Ted), and your names are probably in the book either as pledgers or as specially thanked in the Acknowledgements.

Next, besides publicising the book – and BLIMEY Brother Bernard will be chatting to our lovely supporter Cerys Matthews on BBC 6Music this Sunday morning at 10AM, and then a long interview on FROME FM at 12 noon the same day! – we really must get on and organise an audio version. If anyone out there can help us organise a platform, if not a recording and the whole shebang, we think this could be an awesome pillar of the TALES OF BRITAIN campaign, well worth getting involved with.

And of course the live tours continue – sadly we have been terribly messed around by venues for the London launch which some of you have so kindly pledged for; it was to be on the 12th March, but we’re waiting for the happy ending to emerge on that score. LONDONERS! Do you know of any free performing spaces in London, a nice friendly pub who’d be proud to host the launch of the first comprehensive British folktale collection in decades? Please get in touch, we’d love to get this wonderful show locked in for you all to enjoy. 

In the meantime, Sister Sal will be joining Brother Bernard to kick off THE BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL on Saturday 30th March, and books will be available on the day!

As for other pledges, it will be tricky to find a perfect time which suits everyone who pledged to come and hear the legend of Bladud retold in the real meadows where the story is based here in Bath, but if you email us hopefully we can find a way to make it work. And Bernard is already at work on a special folktale just for one lucky pledger! Besides signing copies like mad…

But for now – please just enjoy these very silly, anarchic, updated British folktales, and if you do, please do let the Internet know in the usual places, a good word on Amazon and/or Goodreads could mean more people get to have the pleasure of diving into our all-new national treasury, on your recommendation! SHARE AND ENJOY, and READ BRITANNIA!

Wayland the Smith, And Other Artists

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, to all our fellow ARTISTS!


How exciting! Our book is headed from the printers right into our open arms, a work of art which has taken us up to 15 years to make a reality, with your kind help!

Crucially, some of you pledged good money for extra perks, and we need to hear from you ASAP about how we can honour those promises to you. We’re particularly keen to arrange the LONDON LAUNCH, where Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will perform an hour of stories exclusively for you, but we just need to arrange a time and place where pledgers from all over the UK can make it to the capital and enjoy the entertainment. And time is very short, so any issues, PLEASE get in touch and let us know! 

We have been blogging for so long, trying to crowdfund this collection of 77 British folktales with tourist guides, that the themes have started to come round again, and we have a few crafty tales which suit the artistic theme – the North Country giant Wade & Bell who crated much of the scenery around Whitby, for a start, the writing artistry of Chaucer and Robert Henryson, perhaps even the artistry of that little spider spied by Robert the Bruce! And of course, there’s the great intricate metalwork of the great Norse God Wayland, who keeps his smithy in Oxfordshire – see above – and in our story, fails to train his naughty apprentice Flibbertigibbet…

As for our own artistic endeavours, some of you will swiftly notice when you get our book in your hands that although the treasury is bountiful and gorgeous, some of our original hopes and plans for Tales of Britain’s design have simply not been possible to put into practice. The reason for this is simply that our crowdfunding did not extend to paying an illustrator or designer to take our rough designs and make them happen, this time round. Even though we provided icons for every single story, plus maps complete with grid references, as part of the original plan to make this a road atlas of stories, we’re NOT artists, and so the full elements that make up the road atlas/holiday brochure concept would have required reworking by more talented professionals…

The editor only retained one element of the design – the Tale Key which we mentioned LAST WEEK, which we came up with as a scheme to show the reader at a glance whether certain stories were suited to their intended audience. Sharing these retellings aloud with all ages is a crucial part of why this book is being published, and so we hoped that little icons to show if a story has slightly adult themes and so on might be a handy way of ensuring that minimum embarrassment is caused if you start the wrong kind of story for a nursery group!

We really hope that this remnant of our intended design doesn’t seem incongruous on its own now – in years to come, there are plans to release further editions, follow-ups, extra volumes and deluxe reprints, which will restore all the wonderful original design concepts, but after so long, we’re just so glad to get these STORIES to you, words to share and enjoy, and we’re proud of every last one of them. Words are our most important artistic tools, after all…

SO NEAR AND YET SO NEAR! One more Folklore Thursday to publication!

Tristan 4 Isolde 4eva

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

A very LOVELY Folklore Thursday to you all, this Valentines!

The usual FT crew may be taking the day off, but we can at least give you a very crucial update – a week after a horrifying false alarm when Amazon messed up its setting on our eBook, so it looked like the book was cancelled… we can finally reveal that, despite some over-ambitious early release date teasing beyond our control, and all sorts of publisher woes which slowed down the crossing of T’s and dotting of I’s…

TALES OF BRITAIN IS FINALLY WITH THE PRINTERS RIGHT NOW!

Yes, we have been told to expect physical copies in our hands by the 20-somethingth of February, and will consider March the release date – we’ll be chatting with the wonderful Cerys Matthews on 6music 10.30am on Sunday 3rd March! And to her, and indeed all our other supporters, what can we send this Valentines Thursday but ALL OUR LOVE…

We still need to do everything we can to arrange interviews and publicity in print and on air, so please get in touch if you want to talk British folklore in any arena. And we’re booking up our festival appearances and storytelling shows all over the UK right now too, so do email bernard@talesofbritain.com or jem@jemroberts.com if you would like a storytelling experience in your neck of the woods, tailored to your region!

We’ll take a closer look at how the book has evolved next week, but for this special lovey-dovery Folklore Thursday, we bring you Brother Bernard wandering around the Dark Age walled garden (okay, medieval, but how about some willing suspension of disbelief?) at Tintagel Castle in Kernow, where Tristan and Isolde were said to have had their midnight trysts away from the jealous eyes of King Mark.

Not that the two future Wagner stars are the only lovers in Tales of Britain, not by a sizeable chalk. As you can see from this sneaky peek at our TALE KEY, we have both sexy elements and heartbreak in numerous stories. The Tale Key is an eccentric addition, we know, but as we wanted the book to be suitable to share with everyone, we thought it might be neat to include indicators of whether certain tales are suitable for wee ones, and so on, as part of the tourist guides. Each story is intended to have a full info box, halfway between a holiday brochure and a road atlas, and although our budget means we haven’t been able to fully put these boxes together, the icons remain as a handy story selection aid. We’ll explore this more in coming weeks!

As for the book’s lovey-dovey quota, there’s Janet and Tam Lin debating whether to keep their lovechild, Rhiannon and Pwyll trying their best to get married against the odds, the saucy mermaid who lures a Welsh Prince to her bed, while the dam cracks open and floods Cantre’r Gwaelod, plus the other Mermaid of Zennor, running away under the waves with Matthew Trewella, and there’s the courtship of Dick Whittington and Maria Fitzherbert – not to mention Robin and Marian, and the marital woes of Arthur and Guinevere… love is certainly all around in our 77 tales. And heartbreak.

Tristan & Isolde is of course one of the world’s greatest love couplings however, and with a definite place to go and visit as part of any kind of romantic folky outing. Tintangel’s love garden is not so romantic on your own, of course, but it’s as gooey as we get, so all we’ll say for now is HAPPY VALENTINES – your present is on its way…!

Tales of… Where Next?

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Happy Worldwide Folklore Thursday, pledgers!

Well, we had a bit of a wobbly day yesterday when emails went out suggesting that our eBook had been cancelled, but thankfully it turned out to be just an Amazon blip. We do so hope that’s the last negative tremor we feel, and that the book’s release will now forge ahead without a hitch. Not least as we’ve already been on TalkRadio and BBC Shropshire assuring listeners the book is imminent! You can hear the latest chats on our media player HERE. And we’ll be announcing our 6music meet-up with our wonderful supporter Cerys Matthews soon!

And further, very proud to have written an extended article for Folklore Thursday once again, please give it the once-over: A LONG EXPECTED JOURNEY all mapped out for you.

Anyway, as we were asked by Jim Hawkins on BBC Shropshire, what happens next, with the book finally out? Well first of all, of course, we hope folk enjoy this release! And we’ve spoken at length about so many aspects of this book – the tourist guide stuff, the way in which we retell stories with dodgy bigoted morals, the way our national treasury proves we’re all immigrants… but what we’re worried keeps getting lost amidst all this is just how FUN, DAFT and ENTERTAINING we’ve aimed to be, such a rare thing with folklore. Please don’t get us wrong, we obviously love a bit of incense and an olde worlde voice of folkiness as much as anybody, but folklore can comprise so many styles and approaches, and we just feel, any time we pick up a collection of folktales, that there is a kind of standard style which is… well, a combination of dry, and wet, and tiresomely archaic. Flowery. Even the best writers, when working within the realm of folklore, often seem to start writing as if they were Terry Gilliam’s Bridge of Death keeper in Holy Grail, it’s the kind of thing which does turn some readers off, keeping folklore somewhat ghettoised as a crusty interest. We’ve spoofed that cobwebbed old style here and there, but ultimately what we’re doing here is trying to bring these dusty legends back to life – we want them fizzy, surprising, laugh-out-loud… in fact, as we’ve stressed from our very first blog, our number one hero here is THE RIK…

…And equally, his scriptwriter, Anthony Horowitz, with a big dollop of Anthony Minghella’s The Storyteller for Jim Henson, a dash of Sir Tony Robinson’s frenetic enthusiasm, and of course, a loving dollop of Terry Jones’ anarchic fairytale-telling – our book is devoted to Terry.

And so, returning to the worldwide theme, if this approach wins fans, we hope to continue telling tales in this vein until we drop down dead! There are of course many many more British tales to collect and squeeze in to further volumes (there’s been five more written since the book was handed in), but then what about travelling further afield? There were so many exciting tales we uncovered, only to realise they were Irish, not British, and we can’t wait to reward ourselves the licence to start retelling those (especially that one we were once told about the transsexual saint, but we’ve forgotten their name!). And then what about Tales of America? (Johnny Appleseed would be great fun for a start!) Tales of Europe? (Tricky, because there’d be so much to squeeze in, all those Grimm tales and so on… but we could pick the best.) Tales of Australia? (Would it be cultural appropriation to retell Aborigine tales, or a celebration of a unique mythology?) 

We truly hope this first edition of Tales of Britain is just the very start of a long and wonderful treasury of anarchic, daft and exciting 21st century retellings of ancient legends, from all over the world. We’re hoping to devote the rest of our lives to doing this, living by our storytelling – but just as long as what we’ve done so far touches a chord, as our live shows seem to suggest they do, and that folk enjoy our way with dusty old stories. See you on the road…

77 Stories To Rule Them All…

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Happy Folklore Thursday, and happy National Storytelling Week to boot, Tale-lovers! You want to discuss folktales? We have 77 to choose from, each with tourist guides! Who else can claim that this story-steeped Thursday? The question is, which to start with? The familiar famed folklore of Robin Hood, King Arthur, Jack or Godiva? Or the stories which deserve more love, like Molly Whuppie, Bran the Blessed, Jack O’Kent and co? The British treasury of tales offers an embarrassment of riches…

CAN YOU HELP? We’re keen to find any and every suitable platform we can to discuss the many many different facets of the Tales of Britain campaign! Last week, we had a late-night feature on Talk Radio (now on our media player on www.TalesofBritain.com) and this morning we had a glorious chat with Jim Hawkins on BBC Radio Shropshire! Check out Thursday 10.10am-ish for Listen Again. This is all a wee bit early for listeners to grab the book, but at least they can pre-order both online and in shops, and get this wonderful story ball rolling! 

We were also chuffed to talk TOB on popular ghosty podcast THE SPOOKTATOR, interviewed at the British Library, no less! Oh, and fingers crossed we’ll have good news about our interview with CERYS MATTHEWS SOON! But in the meantime, please get in touch for any coverage you can offer, we love to talk folktales…

To celebrate National Storytelling week, as it’s a bit chilly out, above we’ve also attached the video of our version of nasty Welsh story ‘VENGEANCE WILL COME’ which we performed in the snow 10 months ago, when our World Book Day event in Frome was cancelled by the cold. It’s not a great recording – speakers pushed up to the max! – but we nearly caught pneumonia doing it, so make it worth our while…

These wonderful story-based themes we’re getting each Folklore Thursday are all perfect for us to officially launch TALES OF BRITAIN as a real, purchasable book in shops all over the world! Sadly, the release date Unbound originally set us in mis-January has slipped and slipped – last we checked Amazon said the book is available today, but we haven’t had our own copies yet… Though here is a sneaky peek at a page from the current build of the manuscript…

HOWEVER, do not fret, dear pledgers! We know it’s frustrating when you just want to get stuck into reading the book, but we do at least now know what has happened – the book’s editor over in London has been in and out of hospital this year, and so the finishing touches of the manuscript have simply not been added, and once they are (and we still need to give them the final OK before printers start to roll), we’ll be looking at a week or two before the printed books are likely to be plopping onto doormats, perhaps a bit less for eBooks to be downloadable.

We’re all really sorry for the delay, obviously and sincerely, but this is such a weird time of year to publish a book anyway, mid-February would always have been as good as mid-January to us after 15 years of waiting! And at least we now know exactly what’s going on – and of course, I’m sure you all join us in wishing the editor’s family the very best at this difficult time!

Raising awareness is so much harder than telling stories, but we’ll keep at it, and in the meantime, to keep you going, here’s a few non-Xmassy tales, both in and not in the eventual book, which we’ve shared over the years: AVALONROBIN’S ARROW and CADOC & THE MOUSE!

Enjoy, and share, all the stories you can, and before long, you will have 77 more to immerse yourselves in!

The Gift Horse: You Know What They Say…

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

HAPPY PLANT-PACKED FOLKLORE THURSDAY!

Those of you keeping a close eye on the release date for our book may be wondering what’s happening on this delayed day of release and celebration – hold tight, we’re sure the clouds will clear soon! This has been such a long and painful journey, but we’re so close! At the time of writing, Amazon is showing NEXT Thursday… so let’s keep everything crossed!

We would use a popular saying to explain our disinclination to fuss too much over the details of what’s happening at this very late stage of the book’s publication, we’re just so glad to finally make the book a reality. That typed, seeing as we really have all worked so insanely hard and for so long to put a British folktale collection on shelves at last, the publication of TALES OF BRITAIN is ANYTHING but a ‘gift horse’! Nonetheless, the Jersey tale of The Gift Horse is a fitting story for this week’s Folklore Thursday theme of PLANTS, as it’s the one tale of our 77 which centres on that most magical of tree parasites, MISTLETOE. 

From Christmas kisses to druidical mysteries, mistletoe’s significance to folklore has never been anything but a series of guesses, from generation to generation, and although evidence of the berry has been found in ritualistic killings and whatnot, we really have dropped the ball somewhere along the line as to how the plant functioned as part of our pre-Christian society. All we really know is that these poisonous bushels which clump themselves on oaks and apple trees every winter somehow MATTERED.

The plant certainly matters in the story of The Gift Horse, which takes place in the Jersey resort of Bonne Nuit, and centres – as we mentioned when last we covered this tale, as part of ‘Island lore’ – on two young lovers whose happiness is threatened when an evil water spirit falls in love with the beautiful woman, and takes the form of a horse to gallop away with his rival, intending to drown him. No version of the legend names the water demon as a Kelpie, which is a more Scottish term – quite a distance from the Channel Islands – and so we have also avoided calling him that. 

Ultimately, of course, the murderous freshwater villain is defeated with a simple bashing around the head with a bunch of mistletoe – donated, with a nod towards the druidic connections, by the hero’s wise old grandfather, Drew. To this day, one of the rocks in Bonne Nuit bay is said to be the petrified water horse, and you can spend many a weird hour on the golden sands trying to identify which one it is.

Sadly we haven’t done this ourselves yet, as we have no money at all, and Jersey’s quite a trip away. But we hope to do so one day, perhaps if enough folk do go out and buy Tales of Britain when it finally does reach shops! Or at least, you know, maybe Weymouth or somewhere. As long as our stories are enjoyed, that’s all that matters – and gift horse gob explorations be blowed.

Hopefully next week will be our big release announcement Folklore Thursday! We’ll be on TalkRadio this evening talking British folklore any which way – tune in if you’re a night owl or nocturnal bird of any kind, or if not, we’ll post it up here as soon as we can!

TALES OF BRITAIN COMING TO YOUR TOWN!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Merry Folklore Thursday! Families, places and communities is the theme? Nothing could more perfectly sum up TALES OF BRITAIN!

However, keen supporters of our campaign may be wondering where our big launch announcement is, as 17th January has been on the Amazon page for our book for a long time… but it looks like the release has been delayed a week. This is such an odd time to release a book, and we’re so fogged as to what’s going on, we’ll be kept on our toes awaiting the book next week. Maybe we’ll get a box on our doorstep before then, maybe it will take longer. When we know, so will you, but we’re sincerely sorry for any delay. 


Keep an eye out for this at your local indie bookshop – and please do ASK FOR IT at Waterstones/WH Smiths so they can order some in!

As mentioned last week, we have a mighty challenge ahead to spread the word about the release of the first full British folktale collection to be released in over 30 years, with limited PR capability – though thank you to Folklore Thursday and others who have offered us articles and some assistance, PLEASE do get in touch on TwitterFacebook or via jem@jemroberts.com if you can join the fight – radio, TV or print, there’s so much to discuss about TALES OF BRITAIN, from the way stories are able to bring the people of this fractured island back together in the face of the Brexit poo-show, to how the old legends can be retold afresh without the old misogyny, racism etc. inherent in much of the old mythology, to of course, just SHARING THE FLIPPING STORIES, and having lots of fun. Because that’s what this is all about, sharing our national lore!

It’s getting on for 15 years since the birth of my first nephew (voice now broken), which inspired me to seek out a folktale collection which covered the whole of the British island… and then discovered that there literally isn’t one in existence, just ruinously expensive leather-bound old collections, localised collections based on the borders drawn on maps by rich white men ca few centuries ago and so on. Nothing for Britain. NOTHING. Since then, there have of course been further folktale collections released, themed in the weirdest ways – plants, horses, you name it, folk have kept on bringing out themed folktale collections, as if there was a healthy array of British folktale collections already on offer, as opposed to NONE.

Well, here we are, so tantalisingly close to holding the real thing in our hands at last. And hopefully, as it’s not a children’s book, but for FAMILIES and FOLKIES of all kinds, my nephew will still find it entertaining when he gets to read it in the coming weeks!


Brother Bernard and Sister Sal ready to blow your lovely minds.

But of course it’s not just about the book – nor the audio version which we’re working on this year – but TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE, which journeyed all around Britain in 2018, from Edinburgh to Abergavenny to Tintagel, usually with Brother Bernard performing alone, but also with the wonderful Kate Harbour (Bob the Builder, Shaun the Sheep) as Sister Sal too. 

As you can see from our tour page, we don’t have a lot lined up for this release year so far. Pledgers can attend a special London launch show, and we’ll create another one for Bath, besides the Bladud walk for which some of you pledged. We’re trying to arrange another Edinburgh Fringe outing, ditto the Ludlow Fringe, and even hopefully Glastonbury in its new guise come the summer. But we want to go further! PLEASE let us know of festivals, fetes and events where Tales of Britain shows will be welcome this year, be it spring, summer or autumn, now we have actual books to offer as well as oral tales, we just can’t wait to fill up our diaries with shows, in all the places where our stories occur, and beyond:

This is a rough version of the story guide which you’ll find in the books – the idea has always been to hopefully have at least one tale within 50 miles of everyone in Britain, so anyone can head out and explore the real places where the legends arguably took place. And we aim to travel all around the island to all these PLACES performing these stories, and more (we’ve written another several since the text was completed for Unbound, and there will be further volumes!), so if you can think of any way to offer us a gig, if we can break even, we’ll be there! 

For all that this Unbound campaign has almost culminated in us having the book on our shelves, this collecting, updating, publishing and performing of ancient folktales is intended to now be a life-long occupation, and this early volume is just the very first step. So PLEASE give us a shout, and let us entertain your COMMUNITIES with these ancient stories, resounding afresh in the 21st century. You won’t regret it.

WORK WORK WORK… HELP!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A VERY MERRY WORKADAY FOLKLORE THURSDAY TO ALL OUR LOVELY SUPPORTERS!

Or, it would be a workaday Thursday, had your author managed to rise from his sickbed by now, but – despite having a gig at THE FLIPPING BRITISH LIBRARY on Sunday, sadly this is one storyteller whose tubes are still full of gunk and nastiness. Wish us well…

Despite this, of course, the work has to go on – and now, with the release of our book so very close, more than ever. We miss tailoring our weekly blogs with a themed story – what would work with WORK? Wayland is a Smithy, of course, Dick Whittington is worked hard as a skullion, the Shrewsbury-hating giant is defeated by a cobbler, and so on. But ultimately, WITH ONE WEEK TO GO UNTIL THIS BOOK IS RELEASED, the work which concerns us is that of Robert Henryson in our tale ‘The Whikey Tree’, or indeed Brother Bernard himself – the hardest job of all in this century, in terms of making a living, the SCRIBE, the poor penniless author…

10 years so far, man and boyish man – not including more than 10 earlier years as a magazine scribe. It never gets any easier. And when it comes to WORK, we’re up to our eyebrows in it as it is. And we do need your help…

Those who have been following this campaign all the way back to its inception in the summer of 2017 (and the entire saga is laid out HERE) will recall that the massive target we were originally given had to be cut down to something more manageable, if this book was ever to be published – and we never quibbled about the reduction to paperback only, nor even the fact that Waterstones and WH Smiths would not automatically stock the book (though we still hope discerning store managers will recognise the unique appeal of this collection and order some in anyway – PLEASE ask your nearest store, if you can). We regret that the lower budget would prevent us from including all the wonderful illustrations we would have liked, these tales deserve some marvellous pictures… But it simply never crossed our minds that the reduction in budget would go so far as to prevent any kind of publicity – we were told this week, ‘There is not allocated PR budget for books on the paperback list’ – so, the upshot is that your faithful scribe, storyteller, author and performer, not only has to double up as crowdfunder, but now also a PR officer and sole publicity wrangler – talk about hard WORK! To this end, we have prepared an all-new press release to send out to… whoever we can:

Does the trick, d’you think?

But we can do so much more, and reach so many more people, if you help us – have a think, do you know of a good place to spread the word? Are you – or are you pals with – a TV or radio producer or paper/magazine editor looking for some truly fascinating (please forgive the use of the following word) CONTENT, which effortlessly ties in to the constant blabbering about Brexit, and national identity? We believe that celebrating our ancient national treasury of stories CAN bring this fractured country back together – and in addition, our stories make every effort to present our stories for a new generation, with greater gender parity, a recognition of the crucial role of immigration in creating Britain, and so on. There’s so much to talk about, and it’s great stuff be it on air, on TV or in print. Get in touch, and let’s talk.

Or would you just like some stories shared as part of a special local celebration? We are lining up shows at festivals in The Netherlands, at this year’s Glastonbury, as well as regular spots at dear old Ludlow Fringe and beyond. If you can help with travel/accommodation, we will consider all kinds of events, no matter where. Please let us know!

Plus of course, we have all your kind pledges to honour – there’ll be a London launch show, the same in Bath, plus promises of exclusive stories, tours around Bladud’s Bath and more. Do get in touch if you pledged for any of these treats, and would like to arrange fruition of the pledge!

Okay. The book will be downloadable one week from now, as well as available to order in paperback online and (we hope) in the more discerning bookshops of Britain and beyond. We keep begging that the book is distributed to the right shops – garden centres and tourist offices are particularly perfect for a road atlas of legends like this. 

So much hard WORK has got us this far, after so many years. And so much hard WORK lies before us, to help folk know what pleasures await them in Tales of Britain’s pages! But, lest we have a WORK-related nervous breakdown, I think we can all take a moment to congratulate ourselves, simply on helping to make this, the first full treasury of British folktales to be published in generations, actually exist. There’s nothing else remotely like it out there, and maybe, just maybe, that should be enough. Whenever anyone, from any area of Earth, fancies finding out about British folktales, a quick search online will now bring up our book quite prominently, and they now have a one-stop source of the finest stories Britain has produced. Which is all we wanted in the first place, and why we had to start this epic campaign 15 years ago, when we discovered there was no such book in existence.

Hard work sometimes pays off. Well done, everybody. Now – HELP SPREAD THE WORD!

FIRST FOOTING!

Thursday, 3 January 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM BROTHER BERNARD, SISTER SAL AND ALL AT TALES OF BRITAIN!

And, for that matter, happy first Folklore Thursday of 2019!

Except… it’s not as happy as we’d like, as your storyteller is currently in bed, in quarantine, with a chest heaving with burning demons and pained spirits. 2019 kicking off with a massive cold is not quite the jolly new beginning we were hoping for, but what can we do but stay in bed, drinking all the liquids, sleeping all the sleep and hoping all the hopes?

We also have this strange book to keep us company – a second hand find called ’Britain Discovered’ from a few decades ago. It’s packed with fascination… but we present here the one spread that covers Britain’s rich folklore.

This is it – one spread, about the same amount of coverage as ‘cotton production’, and considerably less than you’ll find on the subject of war machines. The fact that this tiny map of British lore is packed with stuff which we’ve not covered in our book shows just how ridiculously rich our folk inheritance is… but how long has it been so ill-respected?

To many folk out there, the stories in the British treasury aren’t seen as important, they haven’t given them much thought because they are hidden away, unlike German folklore, which has never gone away! Our own lore has been ghetto-ised, kept dry and worthy and academic, anything but bring the stories back to life for a 21st century audience in a freely enjoyable way. There’s a lot of jealous guarding of folklore, reducing our precious tale treasure to obscurity, where there should be celebration and sharing.

So that’s what we have set out to do, celebrate and share our stories in a brand new way, creating this unique book for you all. For story lovers in Britain and all around the world, of all ages, creeds, shades, genders and heights. And above all, to make it FUN FUN FUN.

It’s too early in the year to know what Unbound have up their sleeve to help us get this word out to the country and the world – we sincerely hope to hear from them soon with a whole big list of radio spots, interviews, articles, and myriad publicity opportunities to help folk know what’s going on. There’s so much to talk about – our tales tell us so much about ourselves, throughout every region and from coast to coast. For any radio producer, podcast maker or magazine editor, it’s the greatest ‘content’ imaginable – Britain has never been in such a mess as it is now since the end of WWII, and we believe that our stories, our shared ancient culture, are one of the key things that can keep us together. ASK US HOW.

If you know of ANY way of helping us spread the word, PLEASE get in touch: bernard@talesofbritain.com – but with only two weeks to go until the official release, we will grab every opportunity we can to help celebrate our national tale collection.

Because 2019 is going to be THE year of British folktales. CELEBRATE WITH US!

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TALES OF BRITAIN: Spring 2018

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With TALES OF BRITAIN, the first British folktale anthology to be released in decades, nearing publication, it seems timely to migrate all the weekly blogs going back to the launch at Glastonbury in 2017 to a safer place, as Nuada knows what Unbound does with them after publication. I’ve made attempts to keep references intact for this migration, but if you’re missing any video or audio, you can probably find it somewhere on the www.TalesofBritain.com website HERE.

London Pride Has Been Handed Down To Us…

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

… London Pride, is a beer that’s RANK! Merry Folklore Thursday, me old cocker-knee sparras!

After last week’s birthday shenanigans in Kernow, it looked like we’d been confronted with another major challenge for this week’s Urban/City theme – because the idea that we hadn’t covered DICK WHITTINGTON in any of the last year’s blogs seemed absurd!

Dick Whittington’s fictionalised life story is one of the most celebrated city fairytales in world folklore, but of course our 77 tales covers the whole country, in all areas, so it’s not the only city represented – Nottingham is obviously key to the Robin Hood series, we’ve done Coventry with Lady Godiva, plus there’s Bath, Canterbury, and the smallest city in the UK, St. David’s! But, as in real life, the City of London was always going to take the custard cream.

The story of Dick and his clever cat is not the only London tale in our book, of course – we already made you feel ill by talking about Tudor horror BEWARE THE CAT which is in the St John’s Wood area – but though cats remain a theme, the Dick tale we know is a lot more palatable.

To many people, the image below may be what they really think of when ‘Dick Whittington’ is mentioned – OH, YES IT IS! – along with those Bow bells chiming “TURN AGAIN, WHITTINGTON, THRICE MAYOR OF LONDON!” and the evil of King Rat and so on:

… But it’s no great revelation to say that there really was a beloved 15th century Mayor of London called Richard Whittington who was born near the Forest of Dean, but made his fortune in the English capital, becoming a moneylender to three Kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V – and establishing all sorts of charitable institutions alongside his Lady Mayoress Alice FitzWarin.

True, the engraving above was doctored after the legend of the mayor posthumously grew – the cat you see here was originally a skull – so it’s difficult to say how much of the meat of the familiar story has any even slight truth to it – Dick arriving in London hoping to find the streets paved with gold, meeting the lucky cat, being taken on as a skullion treated worse for his hard work than Idle Jack is for being lazy, and then either investing in or joining the crew of an exotic trading voyage to distant climes, where the cat’s success in clearing a Sultan’s palace of a plague of rats (including the infamous King) led to the establishment of his great fortune, allowing him to marry his dream girl, Alice.

There is no set plot to the tale when it comes to panto, but many different retellings, so we chose a succinct route, making the story more about Dick’s search for love than riches, and exploring the idea that he’s a hero who doesn’t get involved in any heroics, but is rewarded for his KINDNESS.

And today’s London may be unrecognisable from the old city that Dick knew, but he remains far from forgotten 600 years later. Any tale-loving tourists who visit the metropolis can not only get their picture taken with a statue of his cat outside Archway tube station – even more impressively, the nearby Whittington Hospital marks the same site of one of the mayor’s original establishments (and of course, its logo is a cat), while a charity begun by the historical Dick is still in operation to this day, which is more than you can say for Robin Hood.

This is roughly the area where the heartbroken lad was said to have ‘turned again’ on the instruction of the Bow bells – but as they are nearly five miles away, that’s where your pinch of salt has to come in handy. But it just goes to show, from the most idyllic rural village to the tiniest town (we’re playing the Ludlow Fringe last Saturday of this month!) to, indeed, the black-bogey-packed scrum and stress of London itself, there is folklore wherever you go in Britain. Maybe even Milton Keynes (did that concrete cow just moo?).

We’re still awaiting news as to what happens now with the book, and dearly hoping Unbound are still aiming to get it to everyone before the end of the year, but as we’ve said before, the more pre-orders and pledges we get, the stronger the book’s march to bookshops will be, so please keep spreading the word, and if you haven’t yet – pledge! Dick would have. He was nice like that.

Happy Birthday To Us: In TINTAGEL!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Happy birthday to Folklore Thursday, and happy birthday to Brother Bernard too!

Now, this is uncanny. After completing nearly a year of annual blogs themed to Folklore Thursday’s lovely whims, this is the week we were planning to give ourselves the week off – ‘Tales of Britain Is On Holiday, in Tintagel!’ – due to Brother Bernard hitting the terrifying milestone of 7,040!

But then, thanks to some otherworldly psychic connection known as ‘coincidence’, it’s Folklore Thursday’s birthday too – so we’ll share our birthday holiday snaps.

Besides, the main tale we have chosen to put Tintagel on our map (Tristan & Isolde also having a Fowey connection), is also surely all about having something to celebrate: young Arthur pulling Excalibur from Merlin’s charmed rock in a magical clearing (based somewhere in the Tintagel village, though to be honest we couldn’t find it), in THE SWORD IN THE STONE!

As a penniless author, I refuse to blush to admit that I had never personally been any further south west than Torquay before, despite the many tales in our collection based right down here. The train from Bath came through Totnes and St Germans, literally the sites of the first and last tales in our book! But besides taking a humble billet in the interesting town of Bodmin (where I saw no beast, but wrote a brand new folktale retelling as a birthday treat to myself, ‘The Exorcism of Jan Tregeagle’), the big birthday trip to the ruins of Tintage utterlyl failed to disappoint: it’s a truly awesome place to behold and explore and worth every penny and expended calorie (also, it’s insanely dangerous, and the most exhausting tourist outing I’ve ever experienced: you’ll need to be fit).

Anyone who loves Glasto will instantly feel at home in Tintagel village, first of all: joss-stick and crystal city! I avoided buying a wooden Excalibur for 15 quid, but was chuffed to see the Merlin’s Cave shop even has a wee stone circle round the back…

 

Then, once descending the breakneck path to the National Trust shop, the compact but bijou exhibition you find there primes visitors nicely for the vast rocky ruins they’ve come on such an epic voyage to experience…

One you’ve clambered up the steep rocky steps and inclines, even the knowledge that many of the ruins are 700ish years older than the legends that brought you there can’t spoil the pleasure of exploring what remains of the home of Uther’s enemy, Gorlois – or indeed, Tristan’s uncle King Mark. Story boards litter the site, and you can even visit the medieval rebuilding of the garden where Mark snooped on Tristan & Isolde, with the plot mapped out in decorative slates.

I of course took the opportunity of filming as much as possible for an eventual Tales of Britain launch vid, and there’s some very rough footage attached!

Tristan & Isolde always seems to have a stronger anchor in historicity than any Arthurian lore (and remember, passionate Arthurian debaters, Tales of Britain also takes time out to detail the Arthurian claims to Wales, England, Scotland and France), but on this gloriously sunny day, the visit happily reaffirmed our decision to set The Sword In The Stone here, as the beginning of our Arthur cycle.

We were indeed lucky with the weather, but carefully scaling from the Dark Age outcrops down to Merlin’s Cave on the beach, with the glowing blue waves and splashing waterfalls… if you want to walk onto the set of the movie Excalibur, Tintagel is where you come – with the far north-west town of Glastonbury as a fitting conclusion to any tour, just as Avalon was the conclusion to Arthur’s tale.

Apologies to any Arthur claimant far from the southwest who scoffs at the boasts made here, to being Arthur’s home – yes, we’re all aware of the paucity of any evidence for our greatest mythical figure, let alone historical sites… but you have to admit, whether you prefer to picture the Romano/British warlord based on Hadrian’s wall, in South Wales, or over the channel, Cornwall and Somerset have totally owned the legend and made it work better here in the south west than anyone else can. So if you want to *feel* you’re walking in Arthur’s steps, this is where you come, and you will not be disappointed.

Oh well, back home north-west, and on with the 7,041st year. And if you didn’t get Brother Bernard a present – get a friend to pre-order Tales of Britain today!

Art of the Landscape: Wade & Bell in Whitby

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

I hope everyone’s feeling creative for this Artistic Folklore Thursday…? We think we win this week, as we have two artists who created the actual landscape itself!

This is Wade’s Causeway, which you’ll find in the Whitby area of North Yorkshire – some call it a Roman road but, like many a ‘Roman road’, it’s been around a lot longer than the Romans – because it was built thousands of years ago by landscape sculpting GIANTS, Wade & Bell!

“What, more hill-making giants?” the cry goes up, and yes, we covered the Wrekin in Shropshire last week, but the giant who made the Wrekin did it entirely by accident – Wade & Bell, the beloved giant couple of Whitby, may sound like a telecommunications company, but they were the area’s greatest CRAFTSGIANTS, and they created many local landmarks with their own enormous hands, living in peace with the little people (us).

This is Blakey Topping, one of a number of hills said to have been formed by the mighty Wade’s craft hobby, and the Causeway itself was created to help his wife Bell take her enormous cow a-milking – in our retelling (one of 77 stories tied to the landscape you’ll find in the book), in order to give human for miles around wonderful cream teas straight from the massive udder!

*Cow may not be actual size.

Admittedly, there’s not much of a narrative to Wade & Bell’s tale, but the huge artists left their mark on this landscape so much, we felt we could not leave them out of our collection. I must admit, yer author visited Whitby several years ago, but was too blind-sided by pirates and Dracula to appreciate Wade & Bell’s artistry at the time, so a return visit to the Causeway, Blakey Topping, the Hole of Horcum and many other landscaping projects of the creative couple, seems in order.

Now we’d better keep this week’s blog brief – we have a copy-edited TOB manuscript to okay by Monday – thankfully, you’ll be glad to hear the suggested changes are very very few this time, maybe we can still get this wonderful story collection to you all before Xmas! Once this stage is done, hopefully a really enthusiastic designer can get to work – and we still have no illustrators, if anyone out there wants to get involved! Wish us luck, and if you haven’t – keep on pre-ordering!

THERE MIGHT BE GIANTS: Round the Wrekin

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

OW BIST THEE, FOLKLORE LOVERS? (In my Shropshire voice.)

‘Creature Lore’ is a wide open goal for Tales of Britain – we’re well stocked with so many flavours of little people, from mystical faeries to the ‘duergar’ of the Scottish borders, and then there’s a whole menagerie of vicious scaly things, not just worms and dragons but the Saffron Cockatrice and many more, and there are trolls, and banshees, and shape-shifters… but then there are the giants. Oh, so many giants.

As William Blake himself would have told you (he loved musing about Britain’s origins, one of his descendents of Albion is pictured below), no mythical creature is more central to the British story than the mighty giant. Indeed, as we told you in our Brutus blog, it’s long been believed that these titanic offspring of Queen Albion were the original inhabitants of this island, back when Doggerland was only freshly wet, and the island was newly minted.

There are unquestionably more tales in our collection of 77 from each corner of the island concerning giants than any other creature you care to mention – except for humans, at least. We’ve told you about the kind giant on the Isle of Lewis, while of course Jack and his adversaries are the most famous, and there are several more humungous natives hiding within this book, which we’re desperate to get into your hands… but today, we’re going with the first giant we ever knew about – the creator of The Wrekin hill in Shropshire.

As a Shropshire Lad, this is one of the only stories in our collection which your author was told from infancy, and knew well long before the idea of writing a book like this could ever have seemed possible – memories of Mum pointing out the hills and unfolding a silly stories of scuffed shoes and soily soles. There’s something about seeing a grand piece of the landscape, and hearing crazy old-female-spouse’s tales about how it came to be, which has always thrilled me to the atom.

And one thing Shropshire does very well indeed, is hills. In my native south Shropshire, it’s the Clee Hills which dominate the country all around (and Titterstone Clee Hill has inspired one original story of my own), plus AE Housman/Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, and the Long Mynd, are all part of the terrain. However, in north Shropshire, The Wrekin has long inspired folk for miles about – and even ended up putting in the odd appearance in the work of PG Wodehouse, whose family moved to Shropshire at a very crucial time for young Plum. His school stories, set in the area, were based at a school called Wrykin, where Psmith met Mike.

Anyway, without wishing to delve right into the narrative – we’re confident you’ll love the way we’ve retold it – the hill’s origin story involves a HUGE AND VERY STUPID GIANT (which we’ve called Reeky) and a small and very clever cobbler from Wellington (who we’ve called Urkle). The former’s plan to drown the people of Shrewsbury by damming the Severn is foiled in a shoe-related way which fellow Salopians may already know well, and the resultant mounds of earth have given us The Wrekin and The Ercall to explore on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

As the cigarette card above attests, it’s one of the more celebrated giant legends of Britain, and one on which we’re proud to have put our own stamp!

If there are any Salopians – or west midlands/Welsh border folk generally – reading this, by the way, do come and see our one-man show for the Ludlow Fringe on Saturday 30th June at The Blue Boar! Brother Bernard will be back booming some fresh tales – and though ‘The Giant Who Wanted To Drown Shrewsbury’ went down very well last year, we’re tempted to mix things up with some different stories this time. If we pick a giant-based story, the antics of the evil giants of Stokesay Castle may be closer to home…

A Funny Old Game: Elidor & The Golden Ball

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

We hope this sporting Folklore Thursday finds you all cheering!

We’re afraid our crowd of lovely backers has stopped growing – though admittedly we are spending more time worrying about when we will hear back about the latest manuscript copy-edit than actually spreading the word, particularly when there will be so much noise to create when the book is finally available to buy! We can confirm that, besides book dates in Cornall, Cambridge, Bath, Ludlow and Cardiff, there will be a live Tales of Britain show at the Edinurgh Festival, on Thursday 23rd August! More details to follow.

But for now, let’s break the habit of a lifetime, and talk about… I can’t quite believe I’m typing this… SPORT!

Yes, the act of playing games and knocking rounds things around lawns is the theme this week, and the tale which most obviously fits the bill in our collection is actually also one of the very first tales we ever retold – the Pembrokeshire legend of Brother Elidor, and the wonderful game (and excellent custard) he discovered in the fairy kingdom!

Having started out 14 years ago reworking Shropshire folktales for nephews, once the criminal absence of a British foklore collection on our bookshelves became clear to me, I began adding other stories which caught my eye to a folder, and subtly wondering whether I might be able to revive our national lore with a proper book. This year, we finally are!

It’s hard to say why this tale was only the 4th or 5th to be added to the pile – and it’s worth adding, it has nothing at all to do with Alan Garner’s fantasy novel ‘Elidor’. The priest in question seems to have been a historical figure, and Gerald of Wales recorded this tale as a genuine claim from old Elidor, who constantly wept at the memory. We have no idea what 12th century Welsh monks were on, but…

The story runs that this apparently respectable priest of the Pembrokeshire city of St. David’s – the smallest city in the UK by a long chalk – was said to have travelled underground to an alternate reality as a young boy. In this other land, populated with tiny people, Elidor was welcomed and championed as a mighty giant, fed the local delicacy of custard, and introduced to a sport which sounded very like rugby, centuries before an English public schoolboy picked up a football and claimed to have invented the Welsh national sport.

Of course, ball games are millennia old, and have been played in Britain for a very long time, and proto-soccer or rugby, they are much the same – team games with a ball (or perhaps the severed head of your enemy, according to taste) and a goal to kick it into – be it a menhir or the crypt of the nearest village’s parish church, and so on.

Sadly, although Elidor excelled at the game, being so much bigger than his opponents, his claim to ownership of the golden ball involved had tragic consequences when he tried to run back to the land of the humans with it. The little people gave chase, and… well, we should probably not dwell on what happened next here, or we’ll be giving away the whole story!

But then, very few Britons who dare to visit underground worlds full of little people thrive…

JOIN OUR TEAM! If you haven’t yet, PLEDGE TODAY!

Ye Gods: Wayland & Flibbertigibbet in Oxfordshire

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

BY TOUTATIS! Is it Folklore Thursday again already? Gods almighty…

Ferretting out a God-themed tale from our 77 British stories is a taller order than you might think. Probably our most theological tale of all, LONG MEG AND HER DAUGHTERS, is not only all about how we don’t need gods or religion, but it’s also… well, already been blogged about. Obviously. The thing is, unlike Norse, Greek and Roman myths, and cultures in many other corners of the planet, Britain has much less to offer in terms of home-grown God mythology.

This is largely down to the frankly DAFFY trait of the pre-Roman denizens of this island, of not seeing the value of properly recording their culture for generations to come (or maybe this is unfair – perhaps they did finally work out the necessity of coming up with something a bit neater than the odd spot of ogham notching – and yeah, we know ogham was later – but then the Romans destroyed all the evidence). Despite a tangle of silly names which have survived, usually quoted verbatim from The Wicker Man – ‘Nuada, god of the sun’ and so forth – we don’t know a lot about the gods who ruled the lives of the people of Britain from 55AD and beyond. Like so much of this stuff, it’s impossible to tell what is genuinely ancient, and what is the babbling of Victorian antiquarians.

But due to the English coming over and ransacking the place centuries later, we do have plenty of poached Norse mythology on our land. And besides, it’s quite possible that whatever British gods we once had corresponded easily with counterparts in Norse, Greek and Roman myths – Odin/Zeus/Jupiter – and so it matters less than it might seem who we once worshipped. Certainly it was usual for Romans to ally local gods with Roman equivalents: these words are being tapped out right now in Bath, the Roman city of Sulis/Minerva, for instance.

But anyway, the one remaining glaring God-type-person in our book is the Norse beefcake WAYLAND THE SMITH!

Specifically, a corner of Oxfordshire known as Wayland’s Smithy provided our funny little narrative of the brawny Norse hero, and his annoying little immortal apprentice Flibbertigibbet – the flighty one famously mentioned by Edgar in King Lear, and Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music. It’s a simple tale, with the exasperated Wayland trying to sort out his work experience minor immortal, but we think it will raise many a guffaw when the book finally hits shops later this year.

It’s definitely set in a pretty corner of England. Four thousand years before the Saxons came along, dragging their own gods kicking and screaming over to their newly plundered land, Britons of some description began building a mighty tomb in the spot which has become known as WAYLAND’S SMITHY. This south-west corner of the county as we now know it was richly peopled, and richly stamped with habitation and sites of ceremony, going back many millennia –also, the Uffington White Horse (you know, the one that looks like a cat drawn by a three-year-old) is not far away, so there’s plenty to see on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Horses are a crucial part of Wayland’s legend, as a forger of those good-luck-festooned items of ironmongery, horseshoes. Moreover, Flibbertigibbet’s adolescent failure to go and find the right nails for a big horseshoe order for the exiled Wayland is what leads to his downfall, and the elder, greater god’s revenge on his apprentice, pinning him to the ground with a standing stone which makes the young ne’er-do-well bawl his eyes out – hence the name given to that spot today, Snivelling Corner.

Sadly, there’s not much to see there now, thanks to the actions of centuries of farmers whose attitude to the big weird stones on their land would make any Time Team fan weep harder than Flibbertigibbet (it’s not always Romans who are to blame for lost British heritage).

Yet we do still have the legend that if you come to Wayland’s Smithy with an open heart, an adventurous mind, and perhaps a bottle of gin, you can still call on the immortal blacksmith to be up for a transaction. Leave your horse – yes, your horse, which you naturally will have brought with you – tied to this spot, and leave a coin or two conspicuously on the side, and after a reasonable wait (so the legend runs, but perhaps they meant 300 years), you will find the money gone and the horse newly shod. This has been found to be true on a staggering 0 occasions in 12 centuries. Nevertheless, it’s still fun to test the theory. If your horse is up for it.

Alas, this is the only bit of silliness from Valhalla which graces our Tales of Britain. And although he gave us a very kind prod for our campaign late last year, we tragically left our copy of Neil Gaiman’s wonderful collection of Norse God myths on a train only two-thirds ravished, so for all we know this self-same tale may be in there – and we’re not keen on competing with Neil Himself. Nonetheless, if all goes well, and this book is just the beginning of a whole new line in 21st century folklore publications, we may sniff out many more Saxon Gods hiding out there in Britain’s highways, byways and any-which-ways, all waiting to put in an appearance in the next volume…

Pledge today if you haven’t, and the Gods will smile upon you!

A Home-Grown Story: Britain’s Famous Porky Trio

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A happy ‘Hearth & Home’ Folklore Thursday to all!

This is our 43rd update since we launched last June – a trifle early, due to hoping to attract Glasto punters – and with 77 tales in our collection, we wonder how long we can keep this up, with fresh tales every week tying in to @FolkloreThurs’ changing themes. In particular, we were hoping that the 77 tales would deliver a fair few lovely surprises when the book was finally in the hands of each pledger – but surprises are harder to keep secret after 42 blogs.

When will Tales of Britain be with you, and in shops? It’s painful to admit, we have no clues about this – the manuscript was delivered Halloween 2017, and we once believed it would be a ‘Spring’ release, but at the current speed of production, that would be more likely spring 2019. We sincerely hope it won’t be that far away – not least as that would require another 50 or so blogs. While we’re waiting to discover what Unbound’s plans are, we’re also somehow trying to arrange the launch publicity – storytelling book events in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and England – when we don’t know when the books will be available for them. It’s all highly confusing and difficult, but of course we will keep you updated when we find out more about the situation…

For now, let’s get on with giving away the lovely surprises… not least of which, in our opinion, is THE THREE LITTLE PIGS!

Yes, you could have huffed and puffed and blown us down when we realised that Britain could happily lay claim to this world-famous fairy tale. Okay, so some professional professor of Folklore Studies out there may already be grumbling “But this is a tale of the B-36.3-slash-14 kind, ‘animal trio in danger’, with examples listed in every culture” – to which we naturally blow a merry raspberry. Because the earliest version of this specific story that we could locate – albeit, only traced back to the late 19th century – was not only British, it was very different to the story we all know so well… and it was based quite firmly on THE ISLE OF WIGHT!

Specifically, the pretty seaside destination of Shanklin (site of a memorable and crazy-golf-packed holiday at the age of 10) played a key role in the oldest extant version of The Three Little Pigs.

We shouldn’t need to underline the ‘Hearth and Home’ element of the tale – it’s all about using your brains, choosing the right building materials to build your home, and ultimately boiling your enemy in a stew on the fireplace – but there’s so much more to this story than we ever thought.

In fact, our search began with The Isle of Wight – we couldn’t identify any really good standalone unique folktales which came from the island at all, even after putting out requests on Twitter, and were just beginning to lose hope of ever placing an X on our British map there… when we read the original telling of this piggy tale, and discovered the whole forgotten subplot of Pig Number 3 and The Big Bad Wolf, at Shanklin Fair!

With both older siblings already digesting within the wolf’s belly, the third Little Pig, rather than immediately luring their attacker down the chimney and into the pot as in the version of the story that we all know so well, was led on a series of merry chases by the stupid wolf, culminating in an invitation to Shanklin Fair. The original tellings of the tale seem to be a kind of Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf – or, if you prefer, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd – situation, with the wily prey always outfoxing the villainous hunter. In the Victorian retelling we found, the Pig waited until the Big Bad Wolf was in the right place at the fair, and then climbed into a butter churn at the top of a hill, and rolled all the way down until SMASHING into the hapless baddie, and escaping back to his brick house.

We can see why the story has been streamlined over the years – and we wanted to keep our own version relatively snappy, and so have simplified the Shanklin Fair stuff to just dialogue – but it’s a shame that the Wight Islanders don’t celebrate their ownership of the beloved porky yarn more.

Maybe some folklore experts out there consider the Wight connection common knowledge, and The Three Little Pigs is a regular entry in English Folktale collections, but its provenance seems to come as a surprise to many, and we’re really proud and pleased to get this chance to celebrate one of Britain’s most world famous stories for a new generation – by, of course, the hairs of our chinny-chin-chin. One of the world’s favourite stories, and entirely home-grown.

The Fiery Leap Of Conjuring Minterne

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A toasty FIRE-themed Folklore Thursday to each of our lovely 300 backers!

We’re still trying to find places to do our storytelling show in CORNWALL in early June, and EDINBURGH/GLASGOW in late August (Please email bernard@talesofbritain.com or jem@jemroberts.com if you can help!) but for today’s fiery theme, we’re headed to Batcombe – and be careful, as there’s more than one Batcombe, we’re headed to Dorset, the home of CONJURING MINTERNE!

This ivy-laden tomb lies outside the church of St. Mary Magdalene, but when the body below was originally interred, the site was ‘both half in and half out of the church’, as the medieval magician allegedly requested. The most likely historical John Minterne, whose level of knowledge inevitably led to him being seen as a conjurer, in league with the Devil, was the early 16th century noble referred to HERE, by one of his descendants, no less.

In those days, anyone with a reasonable level of intelligence, the types who didn’t go round swearing that fouling yourself on a Friday was good luck if you then walked twelve times round the horsetrough backwards and wished a happy birthday to a wren… these folk were deemed to be CONJURORS! Weirdoes whose learning could only come from a fictional character known as the Devil.

The story of Conjuring Minterne’s flame-powered horse leap, a kind of ‘Oh Christ I’ve left the iron on!’ moment, in fear of his magical spellbook being left open for all and sundry to delve into, is not long or complicated, and our retelling hasn’t added pages of extra exposition or complication (though a fair few jokes, admittedly). It’s a simple tale with a strong connection to the site, as the horse’s fiery descent not only knocked the church spire askew for centuries to come (and it’s bent to this day!) but also left indelible scorch marks in the field next to the church, which are great fun to try and track down if you pay a visit to the tiny village.

In a way, it’s a shame that more tales aren’t told about this Minterne, as he and his fiery steed seem ripe for all sorts of magical goings on, but there aren’t many wizards in British lore whose graves you can visit, so at least he beats Merlin on that score – and just a few miles to the south east, at Cerne Abbas, is a mighty giant* with no pants on, so you can visit them both in one sunny afternoon!

*But is this lewd big yin one of Jack’s victims? You’ll have to buy our book to find out!

Tales of Britain #1

It’s time to come out of the scriptorium – yes, I am Brother Bernard. And my fifth book project, just launched on Unbound, is http://www.TalesofBritain.com.

A lot of people have been kind enough to say that ToB is a fantastic idea. But it’s more the case that it’s a HORRIFIC idea that there’s currently nothing else like it. You can spend £150 on a mini-library of British tales, or buy 80 separate regional county folklore books, or choose from a whole library of general non-fiction titles on mythology – but a single collection of our standalone folklore in one place? You won’t find one. So please, if you love stories, or Britain, or indeed me, help us to rectify this situation.

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I have already written so many screeds of explanation about this project both on the website and the Unbound site, I shan’t overload my personal blog with it all over again, please do click through and learn more for yourself. But I can say a bit more about the genesis of this campaign, which has been growing for 13 years now, and I have been working away at it while writing all of my comedy non-fiction books and suchlike.

Today is 07/07/17 (there are 77 tales in Tales of Britain, FWIW), and besides being the birthdays of Ringo Starr, Bill Oddie and Jon Pertwee, it’s also my eldest nephew Natey’s 13th birthday. 13 years ago I had a hobby of regularly getting my own children’s writing turned down by publishers, but I had this idea (since rued – having had four more nephews, the man-hours are astronomical!) of creating my nephew a book, hand-written and illustrated, of my atheist humanist fable The Woolly Jerboa. However, telling that tale only took up 2/3 of the plain book I’d bought, so how to fill out the rest? Well, my brothers and I are from Shropshire, halfway down the Welsh border, but my nephews are all born Yorkshiremen, or Dorsetians, so how about I give them a taste of their paternal roots by retelling a Shropshire folktale? I found a selection on this website, very simple retellings by Dez Quarrell, and without that impetus, none of this may have happened. I chose a Ludlow tale, The Stokesay Key, as the very first folktale I would re-imagine, and 13 years ago today, the tiny baby Nathaniel had it waggled vaguely in front of his uncomprehending eyes.

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As times went by, more nephews required more folktales, and then friends in different areas of the UK started having kids – Cheshire (The Wizard of Alderley Edge), Stirling (Tam O Shanter) and so on. And only then did I discover that NOBODY HAD PUBLISHED A BRITISH TREASURY OF FOLKTALES! And somebody surely HAD to! A few books came close – one on ‘Stories from British history’ made me almost relieved that the burden was lifted from me, but I read some in the shop, and it was the most sparse and leaden prose you’ve ever read (‘Once upon a time there was a King. His name was Leir. He had three daughters. One day…’ YAWN.), presumably written with strict adherence to a children’s publishers’ obsession with target Key Stage 5 or some such utter bilge. Children’s publishing these days is templated, homogenised and strangled with restrictions like never before – Tales of Britain wouldn’t have stood a chance with any publisher other than Unbound.

This was especially clear as I ranted to friends and strangers the country over that there was literally NO British story book in shops, and certainly not one like this, which doubles as a tourist guide and handy ‘Day Out’ suggestion book for families, ramblers and the like. I saw the same manic gleam in eyes all over the UK, as I was told, ‘But I HAVE to have this book! Where is it?’ It belongs on the backseat of every car, and in every hikers’ backpack. An exploration of the British Isles via myth and story. I hope soon it will be, and Unbound publishes books that the people want, but which publishers fear, so it seems perfect. They have a strong QI pedigree, and I see Tales of Britain as doing for stories what QI does for facts – collecting and celebrating them in a fun but authoritative way. However, the next 6-12 months of crowdfunding will be perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. Even funding Soupy Twists became a bit miserable at times, when pledges slowed, even with Stephen’s 12.5m Twitter followers, and despite the wide-spread desire I’ve seen for a new British folklore collection, I’m expecting this to be at least doubly difficult, without a fanbase like Stephen & Hugh’s to rely on.

So please do pledge on the Unbound site, and please do spread the word via social media, and please do mention it in the café and the pub and at the school gates, particularly in earshot of parents and teachers, and please do allow these 13 years of story-collecting to finally bear fruit sooner rather than later. Because over the years, Tales of Britain has gone from being a book idea, to a broad and joyous CAMPAIGN, with a whole team of us doing all we can to revive the British folktale treasury, and retell them afresh for the 21st century – we tell the tales live, we hope to launch a podcast and who knows what else, but it all begins and ends with this book, the most important thing I have ever done.

I hope we all live happily ever after.